Making Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Go Away

Submitted by Adam Szmerling on 7th Nov 2009

I saw a client for help with overcoming IBS, let’s call her Kathy. Kathy was in her early 40’s and had received a diagnosis of IBS some years previously. She had oscillating symptoms of diarrhoea and constipation numerous times per day. She was so angry that she had done every kind of medical test suggested by her GI specialist but they always found nothing.

She had been seeing a naturopath and nutritionist which helped with a small amount of symptom reduction. But she would still bloat and have daily constipation and diarrhoea. She was referred to counselling by someone who had achieved a positive outcome with me for a completely different issue. However this person was an avid believer in the mind body connection.

Like many people who begin psychotherapy, Kathy began with a fixation on “fixing the problem.” This sense of urgency, I reassured her, was understandable but subtly undermining of likely progress. Instead, I invited and helped Kathy to develop an open minded, non-judgemental curiosity towards her inner experience.

Shortly thereafter, Kathy became aware of more symptoms such as bloating and stomach pains. How could she be getting worse? She began to wonder. I reassured her it was perfectly normal for IBS sufferers to get worse before they get better initially when they unpack unresolved emotions, because the physical side of the syndrome may represent “undigested” feelings from the past.

As Kathy really began trusting me and thus process and digest her feelings, she became acutely aware of a sense of panic. She had a history of abuse but was of the view that she had “dealt with it” years ago in therapy. However what became clear is that she had “dealt” with her thoughts associated with the trauma but the feelings had not changed.
By believing her past traumas were dealt with, she was actually repressing her traumatic feelings into her stomach.
Kathy had sub-consciously stored her fear and anger in her stomach and was experiencing either constipation (strong holding onto familiar negative feelings) and diarrhoea (intense rejection of painful feelings).

Counselling and hypnotherapy involved mindfulness meditation techniques in which Kathy befriended her bodily experiences, emotions and thoughts. Psychotherapy to help Kathy work through her family of origin and associated anxiety which had not been processed at a somatic level previously, was applied. Kathy was able to become non- judgemental with her emotional life and gradually her symptoms resolved completely, as more and more trauma from the past was put into context.

Her self-confidence also improved dramatically as she learned self-hypnosis in our sessions. She began going out socialising, something she previously avoided through fear of having an IBS attack. Both Kathy and I were very pleased with her fast progress and the mature ways in which she was able to use counselling to help herself.